AAF Fallout: Week 1

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Jordan Lombard
Living and breathing the Denver Broncos, Boise State and the Colorado Buffs. Jordan is a former Sports Entrepreneur and content creator. In the editorial world, Jordan has won plaudits from Superbowl winner Byron Chamberlain & Bryan Harsin. In recent years Jordan has worked with the likes of Real Sport, FNV, Business Insider and Forbes.

The Alliance of American Football (AAF) made its debut this weekend, and I think we’re all very impressed.

From this point onwards it’s vital that the Alliance carries this momentum and improves week on week if this development league is to become something more. Filling the void left over from the NFL already gives the AAF a huge advantage but can it capitalise on this new found attention?

The first weekend offered something for a football-deprived America one week after Super Bowl 53.   

If, like me, you’re a defence first kind of guy then feast your eyes on the San Antonio commanders and their 6-sack, 3 pick victory over the San Diego Fleet (15-6). Sunday also saw defences reign supreme as the Birmingham Iron notched up a 26-0 blow out over the vastly unprepared Memphis Express.

  Perhaps you’re more a fan of offence? Coaching mastermind Steve Spurrier bought back the run and gun offence to the sunshine state in a 40-6 victory over the Atlanta Legends this past saturday.

Not to mention the week 1 finale between the Arizona Hotshots and Salt Lake Stallions which finished with a Hotshots victory, 38-22. In what was a phenomenally fast-paced, all action shoot-out John Wolford (Arizona) threw for 4 TDs and 275 yards.

Whilst there is clearly a lot to be optimistic about, the AAF does have some room for improvements.

The Good

Bigger hits and better officiating

In a moment which I believe defined the future of the AAF, San Antonio linebacker channeled his inner Jadeveon Clowney as he destroyed San Diego QB Mike Bercovici in spectacular fashion. The helmet shot downfield, Bercovici was evidently hurt but most importantly, there was no flag.

Orlando Apollos outside linebacker Earl Okine tried to follow suit leveling Atlanta’s Matt Simms in incredible fashion.

the biggest thing that both of these hits have in common is that although they were brutal hits with incredible amounts of force they were both clean, legal and neither non-flag caused any controversy from either sideline.  

The Tempo of a Premier League Soccer game.   

The action didn’t stop, there were no elongated ad breaks and those commercials that did air were wrapped up in what felt like a matter of seconds.

A running play clock meant teams spent less time screwing around with things like endzone celebrations and more time driving down field as quickly as physically possible.

In less than 3-hours you would have witnessed a professional level of football at a pace incomparable to anything other than the Barclays Premier League.

With the exception of the AAFs fantastic live play-along app I didn’t find myself reaching for my phone on any given occasion to do anything which wasn’t related to the game itself.

Officiating Logic

The NFL would have you believe that defining a catch is subjective and maybe they’re right but what the progressive attitude of the AAF takes you a step further by taking you through the officiating journey.

Any play that is reviewed is done so in full transparency, the officials are mic’d up and although you may not agree with a particular decision you’re still knowledgeable as to why a particular decision has been made.

For example, Terri Valenti reversed a decision on an incomplete pass and instead ruled in favour of a touchdown for Orlando’s Jalin Marshall. In doing so you heard every word for her reasoning.   

You can disagree with the call if you want (there was a similar call in the Birmingham-Memphis game that looked like an incompletion). But you can at least see the process for how the call was made.  

Given the incredible injustice against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game having an honest and fair system in place is even more attractive for any football fan.

The Alliance of American Football – A trustworthy league.

So far, So good

The initial impression on social media is that of satisfaction and a good standard of football. For many, the fact this wasn’t a complete dumpster fire was a real surprise. If the league continues to bill itself as a platform for opportunity into the NFL and not as direct competition then I firmly believe the Alliance will be here for the long term.

The college connections were in some ways a masterstroke. In particular, the familiarity between Birmingham Iron fans and former Alabama and Auburn stars gave insight into how to make it work in those franchise-less cities.

We’ve got less Drama than the XFL V1.0, we’ve got more practicality than arena football ever offered and we’ve got a more familiar game than the Canadian Football League.  

Without a shadow of a doubt, the Alliance has shattered all expectations in less than a weekend.  

The Not So Good

Illegal defence?   

The Alliance, for player safety reasons only allow a maximum of 5 rushers on passing downs and any rushers can only do so from inside the tackle box. Unfortunately, this makes things even easier for offences to scheme against as it takes away cornerback blitzes and disguised safety blitzes.

Not to mention it completely destroys the red zone defence.

It took me a good quarter of football to grasp why flags were being thrown for what are NFL appropriate plays.

This is a rule that is going to get picked at as the season goes on. Viewers will learn eventually, but this is the kind of rule that can get turn sour on social media and I suspect it will.

No Fun League V2.0?

The biggest name in the AAF, Trent Richardson found the endzone for the first time in over 4 years. As you’d expect the former first-round pick was over the moon. As he spiked the ball which bounced into the stands a flag was thrown.

Given the circumstances I’d have let Richardson sprint round the field naked in celebration after everything he had to deal with throughout his career.

This is a rule that the Alliance will need to think strongly about after the media’s backlash towards the NFL in recent years.

“Who on Earth is that?” 

What the AAF considers as star talent the NFL considers as practice Squad material. At least on the face of things. Being completely honest there were times where the play resembled pee wee football.

The contrast in talent at Quarterback between the NFL and AAF was everything you’d imagined it would be. With the exception of Wolford everyone resembled Nathan Peterman more than Peyton Manning in that big numbers weren’t put up at the position. Although it’s early season fans will quickly get turned off by a missed throw here and a dropped ball there.

In the short-term, even with excellent coaches and the rules being in favour of offences, there’s not an awful lot the league can do about it. As the league progresses we may find that a typical 2nd-string NFL QB would rather play at a lesser standard rather than overwatch from the bench in the pros.

The motivating factor here is NFL opportunities, that should be enough to carry the league as a it looks to build a name for itself.

The Numbers

Whether we want to admit it or not, the Alliance needs to hit high figures with attendance and viewing figures.

The attendance numbers for the first weekend in San Antonio (27,857), Orlando (20,191), Birmingham (17,039) and Arizona (15,000) were encouraging, and the new league went head-to-head with the NBA in prime time on TV Saturday. It finished with a slightly lower rating than the Duke-Virginia men’s basketball showdown.  

That is an incredible start, but it also was the first week. Can the AAF continue to keep that momentum outside of the game markets?  

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